Can Science be “Humanized”?

Howard Silverman of Ecotrust referred me to an article “Can Science be ‘Humanized’?” from Columbia Journalism Review which is concerned with the struggle between science and the humanities in education and political life. The comments on the article are also instructive. I added my own comment, as follows, and invite others to add theirs. — Tom

There is another approach to all this. An emerging movement sees science, itself – at least evolutionary science – as sacred and instructive. In its view of evolution, it encompasses cosmology, astrophysics, geology, physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, archaeology, anthropology, and even history, politics, sociology, and economics — all of which cover different levels of evolving complexity in our 13.7 billion year journey to the point where we now are. It celebrates discoveries of this “deep time” evolutionary vista, its theories, its practices, the stories it paints of the world and who we are in it — as sacred and instructive. See, for a paradigmatic example, Michael Dowd’s THANK GOD FOR EVOLUTION which is endorsed by a number of Nobel scientists, among many others. Evolution is, after all, about energy and matter, about chaos and complex order, about survival and thrival, about self-interest and future generations, about change and sustainability. The dynamics through which evolution unfolds — and it turns out there is at least as much cooperation as competition at work — have much to tell us about our own survival and thrival, our own efforts to integrate the self-interest of individuals, groups, and corporate bodies with the common good. This is the core of ethics. Consider, too, the scientific fact that we are children of first-generation stars whose potent lives and explosive deaths produced every atom that built us and our world (“we are made of stardust”) — except for hydrogen, which precipitated out of the Big Bang, the most fundamental creative act of all time. There are ways to teach and do science that are deeply meaningful and morally useful without endangering in any way its precious objectivity, only its alienation. We need more science that is humanized and more humanities that are congruent with science. Prior to the 20th century we did not know enough to do this. Now we do. This is a marriage that could make all the difference in the world, quite literally.

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